Friday, October 30, 2020
Home Editor’s Corner Train of thought: Taxes versus corruption

Train of thought: Taxes versus corruption

Death and taxes, the two most common occurrences on this benighted planet, are also the most mysterious and inexplicable—respectively.

Let’s face it. Death comes regardless of our body’s ability to renew itself. It takes but a matter of days for blood, bone, skin, muscle, and even hair follicles to renew themselves.

In fact, based on studies by experts at Stanford University, “the body replaces itself with a largely new set of cells every seven years to 10 years, and some of our most important parts are revamped even more rapidly.”

The irony is, the very oxygen that enables life to continue ends up producing ‘free radicals,’ resulting in damages to the mitochondria, human DNA and other vital parts of the body.

This is probably why the human body, regardless of this ability to reconstruct itself, carries with it a very real expiration date.

And in this country where murder is done with impunity, death can come in the form of a bullet to the back of the head.

As for taxes, it only gets complicated as the years pass, with inflation and its relation to excise taxes blurring the lines.

I’m no expert in either death or taxes despite having read liberally on the subjects. This much I do know: my anxieties over taxes, particularly the new TRAIN law, matches my fear of where these monies will be spent.

I don’t mind taxes. I don’t mind paying up. In doing so, I expect government to spend the money on bridges, infrastructure, highways, farm-to-market roads, state-run universities and hospitals, better salaries for teachers, cops and soldiers, doctors and nurses, discovering new fresh water sources, available assistance for calamity-struck provinces, better search-and-rescue technology, improvement in public transport, education subsidies and scholarships, and the like.

I find any spike in taxes difficult to swallow for one extremely important reason: corruption in high places.

If I will agree to flog my back working 24/7, there ought to be some assurance that my taxes will go where they must go. Any slight detour, any change in what or where the money is spent—like the yearly European shopping spree of the wife of a politician, or his children’s penchant for expensive cars, for example—I must know and they must answer for it.

See, this is the thing: no amount of reform in taxation will benefit the public—rich or poor—if corruption remains as our number one problem. Let me repeat that: no amount of reform in taxation will benefit the public—rich or poor—if corruption remains as our number one problem.

If politicians charged with plundering the nation’s treasuries and resources are freed, if ignorance in our people stands as a politician’s primary reason for being elected and re-elected, then there’s no stopping thieves from walking the halls of power.

What we are talking about here is 15% to 30% of the national budget going to the pockets of these bandits in robes. That’s an extremely conservative estimate, based only on available data. Tip of the iceberg, as many would say.

Billions are also lost due to black market trading, the influx of money to fund illegal activities, unlawful use of capital, backdoor commerce, illegitimate transfers, smuggling, the illicit drug trade, etc. Grease money in the millions, even billions, go to the hands of corrupt officials instead of government.

Take for instance, President Rodrigo Duterte’s TRAIN. No matter how government touts the possible increase of jobs which would result from Duterte’s new tax reform program—TRAIN—there’s no denying that unfair labor practices are alive and well in this country.

In a nutshell, no amount of additional take-home pay, which by and large is extremely minimal, could compensate for short-changing the workforce of what is theirs as wages.

Take for example women in the workplace. Even back in 2012, roughly 2.3 million women in the workforce suffered under unfair labor practices, e.g. lower wages, lower quality jobs ‘than their male counterparts’.

After having killed thousands, mostly males, Duterte’s war on drugs is forcing thousands of mothers and daughters to fend for themselves by either working here or abroad. Sadly, most of these women will work under the same conditions as the women in 2012 did.

Diesel and sugary products take the cake as far as the poor’s daily expenses are concerned. They form the bulk of the market, especially for daily wage drivers of jeepneys, buses, tricycles and taxis. Grab and Uber drivers, too, whose cars have yet to survive monthly loan payments and whose fuel consumption equals their kilometer gauges. These form roughly 90% of the economic circle of life.

The Duterte administration hasn’t been too upfront regarding its real motives behind the proposed tax reform program. Everything is good on paper, e.g. bullish infrastructure plans worth a little over P3 trillion so-and-so, possible spike in foreign direct investments, job opportunities for millions of unemployed and impoverished Filipinos, and maybe, just maybe, our last chance in improving a public transport system that has literally gone to the dogs.

But here’s the thing: will all of the P3.8 trillion, every measly centavo, go to upgrading society’s dilapidated systems? Transport? Solid waste management? Peace and order? Housing for indigents? Military capability? Our country’s ability to pay off its massive loans?

Sen. Franklin Drilon is right in proposing that “the good sponsor submit in plenary the justifications for the amendments that are over P1 billion?” (http//www.rappler.com/nation/189915-philippines-senate-approves-2018-national-budget)

The Rappler report says, “Drilon cited the P1.65-billion addition to the proposed budget of the Department of the Interior and Local Government, where the PNP budget is lodged, and the P1.49-billion increase in the Bureau of Customs budget. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, which had been tasked to lead the Duterte administration’s controversial war on drugs, is proposed to get an additional P1.21 billion in its budget.”

No nation has ever taxed itself to prosperity. It’s a superstition designed to make way for parasites. A truly prosperous nation is the one whose primary capital is human dignity and its never-ending enrichment. This is money well spent.G

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